West Point First Captain Holland Pratt said that she learned to build unity among fellow cadets by valuing and trusting her teammates.  Pratt shared insights of her first three years at the U.S. Military Academy during an Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition panel on Oct. 12, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The Army has prioritized building unit cohesion at its most basic levels to strengthen readiness.
West Point First Captain Holland Pratt said that she learned to build unity among fellow cadets by valuing and trusting her teammates. Pratt shared insights of her first three years at the U.S. Military Academy during an Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition panel on Oct. 12, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The Army has prioritized building unit cohesion at its most basic levels to strengthen readiness. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON — With her uniform drenched in the summer rain, Holland Pratt thought about spending the night in the shelter of a portable bathroom.

While weathering through a three-day field exercise during the U.S. Military Academy’s six-week basic training initiation, Pratt began to succumb to fatigue and exhaustion.

“It was absolutely miserable,” said Pratt, now West Point’s first captain. “It was my first experience with something like that. I was looking at the port-a-potty and seriously considering sleeping inside of it. I felt really down on myself and I didn't want to do anything that my chain of command was asking me to do.”

Pratt’s platoon sergeant pulled her aside and told her that her attitude had spread to the rest of her team, impeding its ability to function. She looked to her left and right and saw her squad mates in similar states of discomfort.

Pratt realized if they could survive the course that summer in 2018, it would not only build resilience but character. And her unit would achieve it together.

“Ever since that moment, that's kind of my reflection point,” said Pratt, a military history major. “When things get really hard, I have to remember to look around and understand that it's not just me, I'm a part of a team.”

Since that exercise three years ago, Pratt went on to other leadership positions at West Point including regimental commander of field training last year, where she prepared cadets to serve as leaders in the Corps of Cadets. As first captain, she is the seventh woman to lead West Point’s 4,400 cadets.

Speaking during an Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition panel on Oct. 12, the Liberty Lake, Washington, native detailed how building character at the West Point campus helps strengthen cohesion and readiness.

“All of those scenarios require cadets to go through hard moments, whether that be adverse weather conditions [or] physically strenuous events,” Pratt said. “[We] are seeing what are the traits that define good character and make me trust that person. That helped me understand that they are somebody that I can rely on when things get hard.”

West Point cadet and First Captain Holland Pratt, left, discusses her philosophy on how to build character within the U.S. Military Academy's Corps of Cadets during the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition on Oct. 12, 2021. Pratt and West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams shared leadership philosophies and how character impacts readiness and unit cohesion.
West Point cadet and First Captain Holland Pratt, left, discusses her philosophy on how to build character within the U.S. Military Academy's Corps of Cadets during the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition on Oct. 12, 2021. Pratt and West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams shared leadership philosophies and how character impacts readiness and unit cohesion. (Photo Credit: Screenshot image) VIEW ORIGINAL

As the Army puts more pressure on its leaders to develop unity at its core levels, West Point superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams and Pratt shared some of the insights of the philosophy at the academy, where cadets train to build cohesion every day.

Williams said that character sets the foundation for unit solidarity and effective readiness.

Williams formed the Character Integration Advisory Group led by Jeff Peterson to develop training programs that will prevent future academic misconduct and enhance character development efforts.

West Point serves as a microcosm for the Army, Williams said, and the service can develop character at its most basic levels at the flagship institution for developing leaders.

“I view West Point as an opportunity,” Williams said. “We can do a lot of the things and try to scale it for the Army; we’ve got division commanders, we've got doctrine … We focus on [character development] in a laboratory sense. This isn't something that just works at West Point.”

Programs will also delve into preventing incidents of racism, sexual assault and sexual harassment. A gender relations survey in 2019 revealed the academy had reports of unwanted sexual contact.

Williams said the academy wants to encourage a culture of character so cadets hold themselves accountable both inside and outside of the classroom. An academic cheating incident in May 2020 led to the accusation of several cadets of misconduct.

“Whatever the challenges, or whatever these young men or women are going to face in the Army, what's going to endure is their character,” said Williams, a 1983 West Point grad.

Cadet Holland Pratt, center, is the seventh woman to lead the U.S. Military Academy's Corps of Cadets as first captain.
Cadet Holland Pratt, center, is the seventh woman to lead the U.S. Military Academy's Corps of Cadets as first captain. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Cadet bonding

During the onset of COVID-19 restrictions, Pratt saw her fellow cadets struggle. Some had to be separated from their peers during classes and activities. In some courses, half of the students attended in person while the other half learned remotely online. To help cope with anxiety, cadets turned to peer support counselors assigned in each unit.

Pratt decided to call a meeting with the underclassmen in her company to share their personal experiences of struggle.

“[Cadets] were just repeatedly bringing up challenges that they were encountering and felt like they couldn't get over these challenges,” she said. “They didn't have an escape because they felt like they couldn't go anywhere.”

West Point recently had cadets chronicle their challenges in a journal. Each day after dinner, cadets spent an hour writing and then took 30 minutes sharing their entries with members of their company.

Pratt said the activity has already seen positive effects. She said West Point’s underclassmen formed stronger bonds, a process that her 2021 class took longer to develop.

Through feedback from 2021 West Point graduate Donovan Hinton, a fellow regimental cadet commander, she learned that cadets value the feedback and interaction with squad leaders and platoon sergeants. Squad leaders could coach fellow cadets on proper discipline such as when they must carry their weapon.

“He said that component really increased not only the cadets’ self-awareness and how they looked at corrections, but in holding themselves to a high standard,” Pratt said. “It also helped with their understanding that their squad leaders and their platoon sergeants were there to help them develop, not there to make their lives miserable.”

Pratt created a program called “leader books” where once a month cadets reflect on a relevant topic such as their views on Veterans Day.

“We think that the reflection piece is really going to help cadets see the bigger picture of West Point so that they’re not getting wrapped up in the minutia,” she said. “They are understanding that each day is contributing to them being a better leader for the Soldiers that they are going to be responsible for in the future.”

Related links:

The U.S. Military Academy

Army News Service

ARNEWS archives